According a survey released by recruiting experts Hays ahead of International Women’s Day on Sunday, 8 March, company-mandated policies are the least effective method of improving gender diversity in leadership positions and across a workforce.
Only 16 per cent of 408 Australians polled said company-mandated policies alone lead to real gender diversity progress, while 28 per cent agreed that individual actions, such as challenging stereotypes or calling out bias, are more effective.
But the majority of those surveyed — 56 per cent — said it takes both for genuine gender diversity progress to be made.
“It’s like trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing,” said Nick Deligiannis, managing director of Hays, in response to the findings.
“To make real gender diversity progress, you need every piece of the puzzle put in its correct place. For instance, you need to start with an organisational culture that supports and celebrates diversity and inclusion and where people feel they can call out bias and challenge stereotypes without fear of retribution. Rather than looking the other way, people need to know they can safely speak up when they see unconscious bias in the workplace.
“Added to this, you need leaders who understand and champion the business benefits of diversity and inclusion and celebrate any D&I successes.”
He suggested leadership training should address any lack of diversity in a particular area while making sure equal opportunities for progression are available for all.
Childcare limits stop professional women from returning to work
And in separate research, the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) has suggested that reducing workforce disincentives facing professional, university-educated women could add up to 12 million working hours to the economy annually — the equivalent of an extra 6,500 highly talented women in the Australian workforce.
A report prepared by AIPM identifies eight imperatives for improving gender equity in senior industry levels, including reforming federal government childcare policy to encourage many female executives to stay in the workforce full-time after starting a family.
The reform is crucial, said AIPM CEO Elizabeth Foley, because six in 10 Australians still work in industries that are dominated by one gender.
“AIPM’s membership comes predominantly from project-based organisations in male-dominated industry groups, such as mining, construction, manufacturing, information, media and technical services,” she said.
“Women represent just 22 per cent of our members. This reflects the male dominance of project management-based industries, and doesn’t reflect the available female skills and talent out there.”
Ms Foley said that childcare reforms introduced in 2018 by the federal government presented significant disincentives to women from professional backgrounds returning to work after having children.
“Under the current settings, if combined family income exceeds the set upper limits by just one dollar, the amount provided by the Child Care Subsidy Scheme plunges by at least half, and in some circumstances, by more than half,” she said.
“These built-in financial cliffs really exacerbate the work disincentives facing younger working mothers, dissuading them from working more than three days a week.”
Additionally, AIPM identified other changes required to bring gender equity to the workplace, including building a work culture that values women, closing gender-defined gaps in pay and superannuation, and breaking down the gender dominance that characterises many industries.
In Australia, only 25 per cent of the ASX-listed executive leadership team are women.
“At that level, the gender pay gap averages 21.3 per cent — meaning, women are being paid almost $26,000 less each year than men filling identical roles and carrying identical responsibilities,” Ms Foley concluded.